September, for college football teams, is a time of dreams. It’s a time when the world is just ripening into sweetness. The slate is clean, the demons of last season have been put at bay if not exorcised outright. The schedule for most major conference teams looks like the world’s finest bakery case, loaded to the gunwales with delicious cupcakes. In September, everything is possible. In September, any team can quickly run its record to 4-0 or 3-1.
September is over.
Now it’s October, when dreams begin to die as the level of competition increases sharply. The phrase “same as it ever was” no longer merely recalls a Talking Heads song. But you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” when your team’s shattered dream leaves you alone in the middle of a cornfield. That’ll happen to a few Big Ten fanbases this week. Which ones? Read on, pilgrim.
Penn State at Indiana
I’ve had this game circled since the preseason as the game Indiana would rise up and get someone. I’m not backing down even though IU comes into this game 2-2. This is apparently not the season that IU’s defense begins to match strides with its offense, as the Hoosiers have given up 35 points or more in three of their four games. They will do so again here even though Penn State hasn’t entirely been a beacon of offensive brilliance.
Penn State’s defense looks reasonable on paper until you consider who the Nits have played. If Central Florida (admittedly a pretty good team) could get 34 against Penn State, Indiana should do at least that well if not better. It will be a nailbiter but I do expect the Hoosiers to pull off the mild upset.
The pick: Indiana 48, Penn State 41
Michigan State at Iowa
Everyone talks about the two defenses in this game, which is fine, since they’re both excellent by any measure. There’s no getting around how the two offenses are in completely different places and seem headed in completely different directions. Michigan State’s offense is awful, so bad that the Spartans actually remind me of a different MSU. That would be Mississippi State under Sylvester Croom, a team that frequently failed to score 200 points in an entire season.
Iowa still doesn’t have a sophisticated or particularly diverse offense but its running game is solid and the aerial attack is starting to come together. Neither offense will look great in this game but I’ll give the nod to the school that at least knows who its starting quarterback should be.
The pick: Iowa 16, Michigan State 13
Minnesota at Michigan
Based on underwhelming performances against the likes of Akron and Connecticut, I’m not sure Michigan is good enough to beat Minnesota.
Based on an underwhelming performance against Iowa, I’m not sure Minnesota is good enough to beat Michigan.
The only thing I’m sure of is that Michigan is good enough to not lose to a team like Minnesota. I’m a lot less certain that Minnesota is good enough not to lose to a team like Michigan. Thus Minnesota will have to beat Michigan if it wants to beat Michigan, but since I’m not sure Minnesota is good enough to beat Michigan, I feel safe in saying that Michigan will not lose to Minnesota. It just won’t beat Minnesota.
(Look, that all makes perfect sense to me.)
The pick: Michigan 28, Minnesota 17
Illinois at Nebraska
Like I said, a couple dreams will die in the Big Ten this week, and here’s one of them: the dream that Illinois football has suddenly become relevant again. The Illini are quite obviously a much better team than they were last year. They’d pretty much have to be. But even though Nebraska is certainly mortal, Illinois hasn’t come back far enough to win in Lincoln. It’ll be closer than Nebraska fans were thinking before the season but there’s no doubt about the outcome here.
The pick: Nebraska 44, Illinois 30
Ohio State at Northwestern
Here’s the other dream that dies: Northwestern’s dream of knocking off the Buckeyes. Know how I know it’ll happen? The only two names I’ve heard out of the mouths of the media and Northwestern fans are Kain Colter and Venric Mark. They’re both excellent players who would start for just about anybody, so I’m not going to throw shade on them. However, Ohio State also has a pretty good offense and decent special teams. Where the two teams are not equal: defense. The Buckeyes are far, far more talented and capable on defense. Northwestern simply isn’t going to score every time it has the ball. Ohio State probably won’t either but it has a much better chance of doing so. This’ll be the closest the Wildcats have gotten to the Buckeyes under Pat Fitzgerald, but keep in mind the previous closest game was a 35-point loss.
The pick: Ohio State 48, Northwestern 34
Follow Mark on Twitter (@MarkHasty) or email him at pickbigten(at)gmail(dot)com.